Mr. President, Don’t Forget The Nakba
Tomorrow, Air Force One will land in my hometown. Lydda, a historic Palestinian city, is where the airport is (not Tel Aviv). Just like the Palestinians, the airport was there before the state of Israel. It was only named after Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, in 1973.
Unbeknownst to most observers, President Barack Obama is actually traveling to the region on the anniversary of a pivotal day in the history of Palestine. Sixty-five years ago, in a township called Lake Success, NY, a chain of events would be set into motion that would lead to disaster for Palestinians.
Lake Success, a township on Long Island, was home to the United Nations long before it moved to its iconic eastside headquarters. There, on March 19, 1948, ambassadors and delegates were gathered to discuss the implementation of the 1947 Partition plan for Palestine. The British mandate was drawing to a close within weeks. Many people know that the U.N. passed a general assembly resolution in favor of partitioning Palestine in November 1947. Few people know, however, that on this day, the United States—which had originally voted for partition—withdrew its support for the plan and favored instead something closer to a one-state outcome.
For the Zionists, this was a blow to their political scheme. They had worked on their colonial project for decades, and now after a partition plan had been announced and just as the British Mandatory forces were beginning to withdraw, the United States, the most important player on the international scene after WWII, was backing out. The Zionists were so close to establishing their goal only to see it stymied by diplomats in New York.
There was another plan, of course. It was called Plan Dalet. The military plan for the conquest of Palestine was adopted by the Zionists days earlier. Ben Gurion, in response to America’s withdrawal of support for partition, was defiant. He declared that “the tactical establishment of the Jewish state depends on Jewish strength. It is by our power, mobilized to the utmost, that the state will arise.”
If the international community wasn't going to give the Zionists a state of their own in Palestine at the expense of the natives, the Zionists were determined to take it by force. Mobilization was key. It was during this period that Zionist militant activity, both by the Haganah and the Irgun, aggressively increased.
Plan Dalet might have been intended for implementation after the end of the mandate on May 15. By April, however, Plan Dalet and many of the various military operations it included were in full swing. On April 9, the Irgun, with the assistance of the Haganah, attacked the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Scores of Palestinian men, women and children were killed in the massacre.
The bloody massacre at Deir Yassin sent shockwaves through a vastly civilian population that stood little chance against the organized fighting force of the Zionists, newly emboldened by massive shipments of arms from Czechoslovakia. From the end of March 1948 through May 14, 1948 some 200 Palestinian villages were already attacked and depopulated by Zionist militia and some 400,000 refugees created—many from Palestine’s two largest cities of Yaffa and Haifa. It is important to note that these offensives against Palestinian villages and towns took place before Arab armies (mostly Jordanian and Egyptian) crossed into Palestine on May 15, 1948.
During his trip, President Obama will make the obligatory visit to Yad Vashem, the Israeli museum dedicated to the remembrance of victims of the Holocaust. What he may not know is that from this museum, the site of the Deir Yassin massacre is visible just across the wadi.
Many argue that the Jewish state, while not a universalist democracy, has a right to be Jewish just as France has a right to be French. The inherent paradox that sets Israel apart, however, is that Zionism took the notion of self-determination—an idea diametrically opposed to colonialism—and achieved it through colonialism and conquest in Palestine. This meant that the creation and continued existence of a Jewish state as such is only possible through the continued violation of the human rights of the native Palestinian inhabitants.
At Yad Vashem, President Obama will be told to “never forget” while conveniently ignoring the ghost of the Nakba just outside. A peaceful solution can never be achieved while ignoring the rights of Palestinians prevented from living in their homeland by the state of Israel. If President Obama wants to be honest with Israelis, he should tell them that explicitly and take a moment to recognize the victims of Deir Yassin while he is there.